How to write a novel when you have kids

As a parent, there are a million things that seem to take priority over writing.  Playing with your kids, feeding them, putting them to bed (which currently takes us about 4 hours), cleaning the house, looking at Instagram, just sitting with your eyes closed for ten precious minutes…  It just seems so difficult to commit to carving out time to write.  But if you want to be an author, as opposed to just a writer dreaming of writing, then commit you must.
I don’t have any easy answers, either.  You have to make sacrifices and you frequently won’t want to – but hey, you’re a parent, sacrifice is your new middle name.  I’ve become more and more determined to force at least one book of mine on the world, for entirely selfish reasons.  And so I’ve had to figure out ways to do it that still allow me to be a good mum, partner (bit iffy on that one, actually) and family member.
Here’s my advice.
Be flexible about how and where you write. On your phone while they are drifting off to sleep, in a notebook while they are playing, on the reverse of your toddlers colouring book, wherever you can – if you wait until you have unfettered access to your laptop and an uncluttered desk you may die at 97 with your novel still inside you.  Embrace file sharing apps like Dropbox to make syncing across devices easier – I use Evernote (the free version) so that I can easily copy notes from my phone across to my laptop when I get to it.
Rather than have a dedicated writing desk (there’s no space for one in my house and in any case, my girls would NEVER let me sit at a desk when they are around) it might help to have a dedicated writing ‘dumping ground’ (maybe a drawer or box) where you collate all the scraps and notes and scribbles that will eventually contribute to your novel.
And for the love of God, write that idea down at 2am.  It may well be mind-blowing, but you almost certainly will not remember it in the morning.
Make your peace with sacrifice.  If you fight it, it will make you resentful and frustrated.  Just accept that if you really want to follow your passion and make this book happen, you’ll have to give up things like early nights, fancy mealtimes (toast crumbs on your keyboard, anyone?) and your favourite TV shows.  Not forever!  But for now. It’s tough, but if you can’t write when your kids are around then your options are pretty limited.
Set short, sharp bursts of time.  Put the timer on, tell the children you are writing your stories, set out activities for them, and go at your writing hell for leather for 15 minutes. Your kids might allow you longer – mine need my attention after about 15/20 mins of solitary playing.  15 minutes of writing might not sound like it amounts to much, but think about how many 15 minute chunks of your day disappear without you doing anything.  If you set a timer for a little burst of writing 4 times a day, then it feels like a game for the kids (if the activities are fun/you use your best showman skills to sell ’em on the idea) and you get about an hour of writing a day.  That’s 7 hours a week, and that, my friends, is a whole day’s work.
Get your kids involved. Depending on their age, you could tell them a little story about your main characters and draw them a picture of them (or their pet, car or outfit, depending on what your kids like) to colour in whilst you write.  OBVIOUSLY if you are writing steamy romances then the details you share might be limited.  ‘This is Darcy.  She lives in a dungeon, wears an eye mask – yes, just like Batman! – and enjoys…horse riding.’ Whatever, if you can, just let them into your writing life a little bit in whatever way works.
Don’t give in to guilt. Guilt is insidious and utterly pointless. You love your kids, they know you love them, so cut yourself a break when you need to crack on with your own thing. Imaginative play is what sparks the desire to write, draw and create in the first place – and encouraging children to play alone for a few hours each day isn’t neglect! It’s positive for your children to see you working hard on something you are passionate about and equally positive to recognise boundaries – you are their parent and their rock, not their eternal playmate.
person holding brown stone

Highly symbolic photo of smiling rock-parent by Creative Designs on

Above all, just do what you can.  I’ve read success stories from authors who have written bestselling novels in 15 minutes a day whilst on maternity leave so it’s definitely possible, even if it’s definitely not easy.
I make sure that I read my kids plenty of stories and I hope that one day they will want to write their own alongside me, but until then, I’m just doing my best to do what I love whilst still showing them I love them.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you have any tips and advice for sneaking in precious writing time – or any kind of ‘me’ time – around looking after children!
C x

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